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Snow Leopard as a Parallels/VMWare/VirtualBox guest OS

Update: The below was tested on Parallels Desktop 6. Commenters have reported that it doesn’t work on Parallels Desktop 7. I’ll be taking a closer look at some point.

One bit of under-the-radar good news in Lion is that Apple has changed the licensing terms of their End User License Agreement: they now permit you to run Mac OS X, either the regular or Server version, on up to two virtual machines, as long as they are running on Mac hardware. In Snow Leopard, only the Server version was permitted to be virtualized.

However, there’s now a very good reason to want to run Snow Leopard in a VM: Lion doesn’t support PowerPC applications. So having Snow Leopard around would allow you to continue to use these older applications. Parallels only lets you install the Server version of Snow Leopard.

But a while ago someone figured out that if you can get a Snow Leopard installation into a virtual HD, and create an empty file called /System/Library/CoreServices/ServerVersion.plist, it would boot. So the trick is to figure out how to get Snow Leopard into a Parallels virtual HD (.hdd file). Another person figured out that if you installed Snow Leopard Server first, and from there installed standard Snow Leopard, that would work; but what I wanted was not have to install Snow Leopard Server first, or in fact need it at all.

So I figured out a couple of methods. They have been tested with Parallels Desktop 6 but ought to work equally well in VMWare Fusion or Oracle VirtualBox. One method is faster, but requires a Snow Leopard Server install disc, though not a license key for it. (This might apply if your license key expires after a certain date, or is already in use on another machine; you won’t actually be installing Snow Leopard Server.) The other way requires only a regular Snow Leopard DVD, but also needs an 8 GB flash drive and it takes longer. I’ll explain the first way here, and the second way tomorrow.

(Keep in mind that it’s only me, Ivan Drucker, and not IvanExpert the company, explaining how to do this, and I’m not recommending it. Since the release of Lion, it’s now a murky area as to whether doing this is kosher per Apple’s EULA. I am not a lawyer, I am not responsible for anything that happens, etc, etc.)

If you have a Snow Leopard Server DVD:

  1. Use Disk Utility to make disk image files from both the Server DVD and the standard Mac OS X DVD.
  2. Create a new VM. Choose “Continue Without Disc” and then choose “Mac OS X Server 10.6″ as the type of virtual machine, and select “Customize Settings Before Installation”.
  3. In the configuration window, click on Hardware. Click on CD/DVD and assign the Snow Leopard Server disk image to it.
  4. Add another virtual CD/DVD drive, and assign the standard Snow Leopard disk image to it.
  5. Click Hard Disk 1. This will be your Snow Leopard virtual HD. If you want it to be larger than the default which Parallels created, either edit it, or just delete the drive and add back a new one.
  6. Click OK and start the VM. Snow Leopard Server Install will start up. Click until you get to the screen where it asks which hard disk you want to install to.
  7. Go to the Utilities menu and choose Terminal. On a single line, including the single quote marks, type: cd ‘/Volumes/Mac OS X Install DVD/System/Installation/Packages’
  8. Type: installer -verbose -pkg OSInstall.mpkg -tgt ‘/Volumes/Macintosh HD’ (explained  here)
  9. Snow Leopard will begin installing to the virtual HD. You will see nothing but “Installing Files” and other notices for a while, possibly over an hour.
  10. Type: touch ‘/Volumes/Macintosh HD/System/Library/CoreServices/ServerVersion.plist’
  11. Type: shutdown -h now

That should be it. Fire up the virtual machine, and you should be running the regular version of Snow Leopard.

One thing to be aware of is that the presence of the file /System/Library/CoreServices/ServerVersion.plist causes at least two side effects: A) Software Update won’t offer you many updates that it is supposed to, and B) the Sharing system preference pane hides many of its settings.

So before using either, you should remove that file, but be sure to put it back when you’re done, or the VM won’t start up. If you do find yourself in that situation, booting from the the Snow Leopard Server disk image, opening Terminal, and then typing the commands in steps 10-11 above should fix it.  This blog post also suggests a script which takes care of creating and deleting it automatically; I haven’t (yet) tried it.

Ok: tomorrow I’ll explain how to do it without needing the Server disk.

bialylis September 3rd, 2011

Will it work with tiger server and snow leopard client?

Leo Ubia September 4th, 2011

Hello Ivan,
thank you very much for this great information. Now I can run my old PPC Software on a virtualized Snow Leopard within Parallels Desktop. I need this especially for scanning with SilverFast 6.6 in Photoshop CS4.
I have only one problem: Photoshop CS4 shows a very strange behavior when using it in a virtualized Snow Leopard. Do you know about this – perhaps Photoshop does not work in a virtualized machine ??

Michael September 10th, 2011

Great article! Helped me a lot. I didn’t have Snow Leopard Server however, so used the Lion installer I’d kept instead. By mounting InstallESD.dmg from the Lion installer package, I launched Terminal and installed Snow Leopard just like you described. Might be a nice option if you’ve got Lion, but not Snow Leopard Server.

Stephen September 14th, 2011

Hi, I’m wondering if you have any idea if this will work with Parallels Desktop 7

Ivan September 19th, 2011

Excellent idea!

Éric September 20th, 2011

The above worked for me although I created the 10.6 client VM from Parallels Desktop 6 (running in Lion) and then upgraded to PD7. The 10.6 client VM I created was converted and it still runs just fine under PD7.

John (Totalapps) September 27th, 2011

Very detailed and informative article. Thank you, Ivan!
Please visit my blog where I’m discssing related topic:

MichaelLAX September 27th, 2011

Ivan: I was easily able to use your first method to install Snow Leopard on Parallels 7’s recent update (Build 7.0.14922; Revision 693916; September 13, 2011). I do not know if I could have installed on the original Parallels 7, as I went right to the version 7 update as my first install. Also, I updated my Mac Mini from 2GB RAM to 8GB and allocated 2GB to the Parallels virtual machine.

However, I have been unable to install Rosetta, which is the reason I want to have Snow Leopard running on my July 2011 (5,1) Mac Mini, to use Quicken 2002. It fails on its attempt to download it from the Internet when I launch Quicken. It also fails to install manually from the OS X Snow Leopard Install Disks Other Installs folder.

I thought perhaps the problem was that Snow Leopard required an update from OS X 10.6. So, I moved the ServerVersion.plist file to the desktop and did all updates, including to OS X 10.6.8. However, first I tried to move ServerVersion.plist back to where it belongs before the restart and the updates would not install. So then I again moved it to the desktop and kept it there while I did the restart, which then installed all of the updates.

Unfortunately at that point, the virtual machine will not open properly for the reason that the ServerVersion.plist file is not in the proper place. I cannot get it to boot from the SERVER disk, no matter what I try (to manually recreate the ServerVersion.plist file); and it keeps going to the HD and fails. Plus Parallels Mounter will not mount the virtual HD to allow me to manually move the ServerVersion.plist file back to where it belongs.

So, I started from scratch and I now have a new virtual HD with Snow Leopard 10.6, but again, I cannot get Rosetta to install.

I thought about using Pacifist to manually move the Rosetta components where they belong, but I have no idea where they go. Do you?

Any ideas??? Thanks!

MichaelLAX September 28th, 2011

OK: I had to additionally remove the ServerVersion.plist file BEFORE attempting to install Rosetta, and that solved the problem of installing it (and then, of course, replacing it).

Now, I am going to work on my problems of updating to OS X 10.6.8 with a way to restore ServerVersion.plist so that the virtual machine will boot within Parallels after the upgrade…

MichaelLAX September 28th, 2011

OK: I was able to get ServerVersion.plist reinstalled into my original virtual hard disk and now I am updated to OS X 10.6.8.

There is an option that can be selected in Parallels 7 that allows me to select which startup disk on a restart. Now I can boot from OS X Snow Leopard Server and use Terminal to restore the ServerVersion.plist file.

All is well: THANK YOU!

MichaelLAX September 29th, 2011

IVAN: Since you have not moderated my previous posts here, it would be better to delete all of them and instead post the following (so as to be more clear):

Ivan: I was easily able to use your first method to install Snow Leopard on Parallels 7′s recent update (Build 7.0.14922; Revision 693916; September 13, 2011). I do not know if I could have installed on the original Parallels 7, as I went right to the version 7 update as my first install. Also, I updated my Mac Mini from 2GB RAM to 8GB and allocated 2GB to the Parallels virtual machine.

When creating your Parallels 7 machine, be sure to select the option “Customize settings before installation.” Then when the when the Virtual Machine begins to create: under the Hardware Options, select Boot Order and check the box – “select boot device on startup.” This will ensure your ability to reboot from the Snow Leopard Server dmg, if and when you need to recreate the ServerVersion.plist file.

To get Rosetta to install, be sure to remove the ServerVersion.plist file first, and restore it after Rosetta is installed. I installed Rosetta manually from the Other Installs folder on the standard Snow Leopard disk.

StephenP November 4th, 2011

Ok, I followed all the instructions here and successfully installed Snow Leopard on Parallels Desktop 7, however there is a problem – the virtual machine cannot produce any sound. Under Sound Preferences it shows ‘No output/input devices found’ and there is no volume control in the menu bar.

If I try disconnecting then reconnecting the sound output in the VM settings, I get the following error message:

“Unable to connect Sound 1.
A file or device required for the operation of Sound 1 does not exist or is used by another process, or you have no permission to access it. The virtual machine will continue running, but the device will be disconnected.”

Any ideas?

KrayzieFox December 3rd, 2011

I will also confirm that this method works with Parallels Desktop 7 (7.0.14920 rev 689535 to be exact). However, I did have to modify some steps to make this work for some reason. Here are the steps I took to install Snow Leopard 10.6.8 with Rosetta support on my 10.7.2 Lion Mac.

1. Make .iso/.dmg files from Snow Leopard and Snow Leopard Server DVDs.
2. Start Parallels Desktop and create new virtual machine from DVD or image file.
3. Continue without disc then choose Mac OS X from the pulldown menu (Mac OS X Server 10.6 wasn’t available for me).
4. Customize settings, then select the Hardware tab. Check the select boot device on startup box in the boot order menu.
5. This is where things got complicated for me. If I followed the original instructions and assigned Snow Leopard Server to CD/DVD 1 and Snow Leopard standard to CD/DVD 2, I would get an error telling me that an unsupported OS is being installed and wouldn’t allow me to proceed. So I switched the standard Snow Leopard image to CD/DVD 1 and put Snow Leopard Server on CD/DVD 2 and that worked for some reason.
6. Continue until you get to the disk selection menu, and load Terminal from the Utilities menu on the Parallels Desktop Snow Leopard Server install!! This is probably obvious to many, but I was actually using Terminal on my Lion OS instead at first.
7. Type in cd /Volumes/Mac OS X Install DVD/System/Installation/Packages as mentioned originally. I ran into a couple problems here too. First, I was getting errors telling me the directory doesn’t exist. I then found out that the standard Snow Leopard Mac OS X Install DVD wasn’t actually mounted, so that’s why the directory couldn’t be found. I went to Virtual Machine in Parallels, then to Customize, and back to the Hardware tab. Make sure that both virtual CD/DVD drives are Connected by checking the box. If you go back to Terminal and hit Command-O you should now see both drives mounted and present on the virtual OS, and you should now be able to access the directory. If you continue to have problems after verifying the DVD image is mounted, try putting \ in for the spaces like Mac\ OS\ X\ Install\ DVD and it should work.
8. Type: installer -verbose -pkg OSInstall.mpkg -tgt ‘/Volumes/Macintosh HD’ and this will take a while as mentioned.
9. Type: touch ‘/Volumes/Macintosh HD/System/Library/CoreServices/ServerVersion.plist’ (no problems here)
10. Type: shutdown -h now and your virtual OS will shut down and reboot. You now have virtual Snow Leopard on your Lion Mac!
11. To get Rosetta installed, open Finder once the virtual Snow Leopard boots up. Hit Go, and Go to Folder. Navigate to /Volumes/Mac OS X Install DVD/System/Installation/Packages and run the Rosetta.pkg file. You should now have Rosetta!
12. Alternatively, you can navigate to /Volumes/Macintosh HD/System/Library/CoreServices/ and MOVE (not copy) the ServerVersion.plist file to the Desktop then use Apple Software Update. This will also update your OS 10.6 to OS 10.6.8. Unfortunately, when you reboot to install the updates you will no longer be able to boot to standard Snow Leopard due to the missing file.
13. Make sure your virtual drives are connected again by going to the Configure menu in Parallels, and boot up the virtual OS again. While booting hit any key and you will be allowed to choose between Snow Leopard Server and Macintosh HD. Choose Server and you will be taken back to the setup menu. When you get to the drive selection screen again, launch Terminal one more time. Type in cd /Volumes/Macintosh HD/System/Library/CoreServices to go to the directory where the missing file used to reside. Now type in cp -v “/Volumes/Macintosh HD/users/KrayzieFox(replace with your username)/Desktop/ServerVersion.plist” ./ and that will copy the file you moved to the desktop back to the CoreServices folder where it belongs.
14. Boot up again and you will now once again have access to standard Snow Leopard, it will now be updated to 10.6.8 and you will have Rosetta support that will allow you to run your favorite PPC apps.

KrayzieFox December 3rd, 2011

To clarify, that copy command is as follows:

cd /Volumes/Macintosh HD/System/Library/CoreServices
cp -v “/Volumes/Macintosh HD/users//Desktop/ServerVersion.plist” ./

The ./ simply tells it to copy into the current directory, so make sure to execute the first command to navigate to the directory where the file is supposed to go.

Also, if at any point yo are told the directory doesn’t exist or can’t be found, try putting in \ before any spaces and it should work. For example,
cd /Volumes/Macintosh\ HD/System/Library/CoreServices
cd /Volumes/Mac\ OS\ X\ Install\ DVD/System/Installation/Packages

A lot of you may already know these things, but I’m new to Macs and I found these little tricks very difficult to get past at first. Hopefully this helps anyone else who decides to undertake this useful modification.

mike January 20th, 2012

Yeah, I got everything working under Ubuntu. except for sound. I’m using the HDA Enabler module and the ICH AC97. The only thing is I’m not sure if I should use Pulse Audio or Alsa. I think I’ve tried all the combinations but still…no sound.

MikeI January 30th, 2012

Same problem here Stephen! I posted in December on Parallels forums here:

No answers yet. Seems to be some kind of a driver issue. I can’t believe more people aren’t asking about this.

William Van Etten February 3rd, 2012

Thanks for the tip.

I found that the following permitted softwareupdates without causing the inability to reboot the VM.

sudo su
rm -rf ‘/Volumes/Macintosh HD/System/Library/CoreServices/ServerVersion.plist’
softwareupdate -ia
touch ‘/Volumes/Macintosh HD/System/Library/CoreServices/ServerVersion.plist’

AlanG February 21st, 2012

OK. I was able to install Snow Leopard using these directions with the latest version of Parallels (Build 7.0.15054 Revision 722853).

However, as stated, I had to remove the ServerVersion.plist file to get Software Update to function properly. I had to leave it out for the installers to run correctly. After this the VM restarted, at which point I was locked out.

Parallels does not see the Server image as a boot possibility, although it is still connected to the VM. What am I missing?

0KB March 22nd, 2012

i also can’t get any sound in snow leopard on vmware fusion 4. no input/output devices found.

Fake_Panda March 27th, 2012

It worked on lion host system running parallels Desktop 7.0.14922

i Installed snow leopard 10.6 and server 10.6

thanks :)

MichaelLAX April 26th, 2012

This article describes how to convert your Snow Leopard DVD into a faux Snow Leopard Server image file. Using this image file in step 1 above, Parallels 7 will install Snow Leopard directly without the need for a Snow Leopard Server DVD:

Sasha A May 1st, 2012

I am also having issues with sound (VM runs great otherwise!). Anyone with a similar problem was able to solve it?

Additionally, I ran into some peculiar issues while playing around with my Snow Leopard VM. I created a second hard drive and named it “Snow Leopard Parallels Backup” to use (for booting) for restoring the “ServerVersion.plist” file onto my main drive, “Snow Leopard Parallels”, after removing it to use the Sharing preferences. I used SuperDuper! to clone my main drive to the backup drive and tested it numerous times. However, after deleting the “ServerVersion.plist” from my main drive, even if I use “Select boot device on startup” or simply uncheck all but the second (backup) drive, the VM won’t start and informs me that:

“An invalid Mac OS version is installed. Mac OS X virtual machines can have only the Mac OS X Server Leopard or Mac OS X Server Snow Leopard operating system installed. Other versions of Mac OS are not supported.”

If I remove the main drive (and “Keep Files”), or even just uncheck “Connected”, the VM boots from the backup drive. It seems that simply the presence of the main drive without the “ServerVersion.plist” file prevents the VM from booting, even if it is not selected as the boot device. I also noticed that when both drives were present (prior to removing the “SeverVersion.plist” file from my main drive), neither the “Boot order” nor utilizing “Select boot device on startup” (and specifying my backup drive) allowed me to choose from which drive to boot — the VM always booted from the main drive (no matter the boot order or the manual selection of the backup drive). Does this look like a bug in Parallels? I am using Parallels Desktop Build 7.0.15094 (Revision 749908; April 5, 2012).

Attempting to boot from Lion’s “InstallESD.dmg” (after mapping the CD/DVD to it), the VM got stuck in a fast-moving restart loop with Parallels giving error messages. I had to catch the “Configure” button and disconnect CD/DVD (or map it to the optical drive) before it stopped. It was my impression that Lion was on the whitelist for Parallels. I was able to configure a new Lion VM using the “InstallESD.dmg” file, though I didn’t actually create a Lion VM, I just tested to see if Parallels accepted the “InstallESD.dmg” file.

Any ideas about what might be happening here?

Sasha A May 1st, 2012

I was able to boot from Ubuntu “.iso” with both drives present. I changed the target OS from “Mac OS X” to “Ubuntu Linux”, mapped the CD/DVD to the image file, and, for good measure, selected only the CD/DVD device in the “Boot order” list; this is from the second part of your article, which I used to install the Snow Leopard in Parallels — I don’t have the Snow Leopard Server Install DVD.

However, while I can see the drives, Ubuntu won’t let me access my “Desktop” folder, where I moved the “ServerVersion.plist” file, letting me know that I “do not have the permissions necessary to view the contents.” Attempting to change permissions gives a message that I am “not the owner”, so I “cannot change the permissions.” I imagine even if I accessed the file (or say if in the future I kept it in the root directory), moving it to the “CoreServices” folder would probably also be problematic, since it would be protected. I do recall I had to enter my password on my Mac VM to access the “CoreServices” folder.

Does anyone know whether this situation with permissions in Ubuntu can be remedied? After all, I do have the password I use on my Mac system, though I’m not sure how Ubuntu would authenticate it, since Mac OS X is not running.

Although it would be a pain to boot from Ubuntu and fiddle with permissions every time I needed to move the “ServerVersion.plist” file, I am willing to do it, if there is a way (unless there is a much easier solution I am not aware of — my previous post indicates that I have so far been unable to find it).

Of course, once I am able to boot from my main drive again, I could remove the password protection to avoid this situation in the first place, though I am curious if there is a way to do this and keep the password protection.

If there’s no way to address this, I am fairly sure I can delete the main drive and simply expand the existing backup drive and use it as my new main drive. I would then remove the password protection and use Ubuntu when I need to move the “ServerVersion.plist” file (unless the permissions issue would persist, even without the password protection!).

In the second part of the article, you instructed to keep that original 8 GB drive for this very purpose of moving the “ServerVersion.plist” file, though I trashed it, seemingly erroneously assuming that creating a clone drive would be an equally good solution. Still, I remain puzzled by the odd Parallels behavior when two identical drives are present in my Snow Leopard VM, not being able to choose from which of them to boot. This leads me to believe it would be no different with that original 8 GB drive, unless it has some specific properties that I am not aware of that allow it to boot (viewing it in Disk Utility revealed a very odd partition (and free space) configuration, confirming your point that it might have issues with the partition table).

Any help on any of this?

TommyR May 2nd, 2012

This is just great. I was resigned to running Snow Leopard at home until it became impractical, then switching to Linux or maybe a real Unix (FreeBSD). With your brilliant fix for Rosetta, plus a couple of equally clever ways to restore the old Spaces 2-D grid it looks as though I will not have to abandon the Mac after all.

But if Apple carry on dumbing down MacOS X until my desktop PC is no more than an entertainment machine (a glorified iPad) and front end to the Apple Store this may be only a temporary respite.

Sasha A May 2nd, 2012

All these issues were resolved or made obsolete by this:

The sound and boot issues were resolved by installing Parallels Tools. The looping caused by using the Lion install image was clearly due it being a “.dmg” file, since converting it to, and using it as, an “.iso” file worked.

However, it does seem like Parallels may have a bug in “Boot order”, for as long as the “Floppy Drive” and “CD/DVD” are checked (with nothing mapped) and precede the hard drives, it does not properly boot from the first selected hard drive, instead always booting from the main drive (the drive that was created first). “Select boot device on startup”, however, works.

MichaelLAX May 3rd, 2012

I have put my ‘Guide’ for “Installing Snow Leopard into Parallels 7 in Lion” up on MacRumors. It no longer requires a Server Installation DVD:

Matt Powers January 27th, 2013

Thanks. Worked like a charm!

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